The foundation of religion is appeasement. Angry gods or fickle gods or distant gods must be convinced to send the rain or stop the volcano from errupting or to come near. Sacrifices must be presented and prayers said in order to get protection and comfort. But what do you do with a God who appeases Himself?
“She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped.” (Luke 8:44)
Immediately. Jesus did not choose to heal this woman. He did not even know who she was, yet power went out from him. There must be a way to touch God which elicits an outpouring of His power not because of the one who touches, but because of the nature of God. (e.g. if you touch me with the sharp edge of a razor blood flows because of my nature) Many people touched Jesus as he walked. It was a throng – it was like a Beijing subway (or Shanghai -that’s for you my Nicole) – but only one drew blood. Only one held the razor.
Why did the woman tremble when she couldn’t remain anonymous? Picture the whole scene: A raucous crowd pressing and moving along with the Prophet. It is noisy. There is laughter and loud speculation about what this man will do next. He himself is silent. He walks in his way; eyes neither aloof nor downcast. Some in the crowd feel touched by those eyes others wonder what he sees. All is motion and sound and anticipation. Then he stops. A quiet descends. What is going on? He speaks, “Who touched my clothes?” A deeper silence. Many who have been near him are thinking ‘is it me? I was so close…did I touch him?’ No one wants to admit it. They shrug their shoulders and murmur one to another. The quiet grows pregnant. It is getting awkward. Peter senses it. He steps forward and says what others are thinking, “There is quite a crowd around you…How can you say one touched you?” You can almost see Peter whispering this to Jesus. He’s saying – you are embarrassing yourself here. Let’s keep moving. Jesus doesn’t seem to hear Peter at all. He raises his voice, “Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.”
And he stands in the quiet crowd looking at their faces. Now the woman is stuck. No one is moving. She can’t retreat without drawing attention to herself. He will see her. No way to go now but forward. She tried to steal Jesus’ power. She wanted healing, not a face to face meeting with the Prophet. And she knows the truth. She knows there really was and is power in this man. Touching him has done something she can’t account for. It took all she had just to get close enough to touch him – all her courage. He has called her out. What will he do? Will he take back his power? Will he humiliate her? In a voice barely above a whisper she tells her story. She speaks to the ground. Tears of fear and joy join as one streak down her face and into the dirt. She cannot look up. Her words end. No one moves. They collectively hold their breath. An unclean person; a woman, has touched a Rabbi. Jesus sees her. He sees the tears. He sees everything. No one has seen her like he sees. “Take heart daughter,” he says, and she does. She breaths for everyone. He continues, “your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”
The Prophet moves away to his appointment with the elder’s daughter. The woman sits while the crowd regains it’s momentum. She has touched God. She has stolen power from God like Prometheus stole fire from the gods – and instead of punishment she has been rewarded with healing and a benediction of peace. She trembles again. What kind of God is this?
I didn’t know it at the time because I was a first time dad, but I realized later that I always spoke to my daughter as if she was a grown up. I used words on her that suited my vocabulary, not a three year old’s. I wish I could say I did it on purpose so I’d look like a really smart parent trying to help their kid become a great achiever, but the truth is more like this: I’m not good at small talk. Really, I’m not. I don’t know how to jabber like some people who can carry on a perfectly pleasant conversation about nothing for hours on end. I tried. I got down on her level physically. I took the time to listen to her little words. But when it came time to talk back I used my own big words. She grew up hearing an adult vocalization of the world. I think its been to her advantage. She’s smart and she can explain things well.
This is the way the gospel works its way out in us. God speaks to us in terms of what He is making us into, not in terms of what we are at the moment. He sees the full life – the full vocabulary of living – and he keeps giving it to us. He gets down on our level physically and he listens to our small talk. Thank God for the patient lessons and the willingness of our Father God to play with us; to love us into Christ, the hope of glory.
Sad to say, but even though I know I’m not going through the door, I’ve spent many days on a rocking chair on hell’s front porch, contemplating both the good and the evil done to my poor pitiful self. The good never good enough (or lasting enough), the evil always intentional, even down to some stranger letting a door close in my face. Smells like smoke in here; here inside my selfishness.
Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:24-25)
Years ago my office was in West Ghent. It was on a street dividing the industrial part of the borough from the residential part. There was a lot of traffic. Big trucks making deliveries to the shipyard or coming from the coal piers. One day a truck sat idling near my front door. I didn’t notice it immediately, but the awareness of it’s presence emerged into my consciousness. It’s dull rumble stirred the surface of my coffee. I felt the sound in my chest. It was not unpleasant. A deep and steady bass. I resonated. The truck’s movement was partially my own movement. I was not touching the truck, but the truck was touching me.
We are made to resonate when God speaks, and He is always speaking. God’s voice is a deep steady bass line. Sometimes it stirs things around us and touches them before it touches us. If you haven’t heard Him yet, the best way is to be still. Stop your own movement so that you can be moved. He has something to say to you. He isn’t playing hide and come seek with you. He split time open to make the way to your chest; to make the way for you to resonate with His words. He is saying something simple. He is saying He loves you. That’s it. He is confident in this one message. The power in it, the resonance of it. A child just out of the womb has no mental capacity to comprehend words and yet he is stilled by the sound of his mother. He was formed together with her. He was connected to her. He knows what cannot be known, but can only be felt. She says ‘I love you.’ He resonates. We were formed together with God, but we are born disconnected. Nevertheless, He is saying ‘I love you.’ It is beyond all knowledge, but you and I resonate. If you quit holding onto your life so hard and ease your grip you’d start to move naturally toward His voice. You can be touched by God. He made you that way. Let yourself feel the love of God.
About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?”
(which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). (Matthew 27:46)
There are plenty of people willing to give away their life as long as they get some credit for it. There has only been one who could have held onto his life forever but chose to lay it down completely for the credit of others.
There is One who knows you utterly. He is not the same One as THE ONE constructed in the great American spin machine. He is, however, the One whose very essence builds compatibility where the greatest incompatibility of all exists, between God and Man. He makes us able to change in the most profound way, in holiness (whole-ness), growing into the creature He intended us to be. He can manage the mutual change of a marriage and bring about authentic compatibility. Without Him couples are merely making sure their deck chairs match while they temporarily enjoy their cruise on Titanic.
What does God require of us? What is it that we supply to the One who creates all things, and who says to us “If I were hungry I would not tell you, For the world is Mine, and all it contains.”? There is one thing we can do and one thing only. We can show up. The church is nothing more than a group of people who show up before God freely while acknowledging it is the only thing they can do. How we have been made free and what it means to show up before God is the area we need to explore together.
A physical therapist came to visit my dad right after his knee surgery. While the stitches were fresh, he strapped his knee into a slow moving machine which bent the knee and then let it straighten out again. The PT guy would later take my dad through exercises and sometimes he would physically take the knee and bend it pretty far. I’m not sure, but I think this didn’t feel too good. As far as my dad was concerned it felt like the knee was being bent beyond it’s ability to bend.
The PT was forcing the joint beyond it’s limits. Trials and difficulties in our lives often seem beyond our ability to endure. We like to ask ‘why God are you doing this to us?’ I don’t know all the reasons trials come, but I do know one. God allows what He could prevent in our lives for the purpose of extending our spiritual range of motion. He sees better than we do how far we can go. He stretches us in ways that feel very uncomfortable at the time so that He can come and display the fullness of His life in us. Having enemies is painful and uncomfortable, but Jesus can love an enemy and display this in you. For those who follow Christ there is no avoiding suffering, but at least we can know it is the suffering of spiritual therapy. It is the suffering which produces the full range of Christ’s life in us.
And a hint for those who want to dismiss the existence of God because of the existence of suffering: eliminating God doesn’t eliminate suffering, it only eliminates the possibility that our suffering means anything at all. No one has ever explained completely why we suffer. Christianity doesn’t provide that answer. But in the Christian story of the world we have a God who chooses to participate fully in our experience, including suffering. The God who suffers is a unique aspect of Christianity. It doesn’t answer our questions, but it does tell us one important fact: The Christian God cares about suffering.
Reading 1 Samuel 17
1. God never told David to take on Goliath – our course often lacks specific God words, all of us must move in faith that we do in fact have a God no matter where we go.
2. David’s motives are mixed: rewards, fame, God’s name – so what? wait until you purify your motives and you will never act. Let God sort this out for you and keep moving.
3. God’s purposes could have been accomplished even if Goliath had crushed David – being God’s anointed does not mean you are safe from harm, if you don’t believe it see Jesus.
4. Maybe David always intended to knock the giant down and then kill him or maybe he was just improvising, but either way he went into the fight without everything (physically) he needed to finish the job – the perfect conditions to take action don’t exist and won’t.
5. It is easier to cut off a giant’s head when it is lying down rather than when it is standing upright.
6. When you decide to kill a giant other people (probably older, more powerful, and more experienced) will (a) criticize you and (b) have ideas about how you should do it.
7. The only good reason to take on a giant is if it is in the way of God’s purposes.
8. If this was the modern church all the army of Israel would’ve thrown down their spears and swords and made slingshots before they ran after the rest of the Philistine army.
Bonus thought: If you read this story and don’t get that it is pointing you to the true and greater David who takes on our giants at the cost of his life, and whose victory is imparted to us who stand around watching without lifting a finger, you are really missing everything. Don’t try to be like David, invite the greater David to be your champion.